Metro Louisville

Kentucky is one of only ten states that elects judges at every level of its court system through nonpartisan elections. Judges in the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, Circuit Courts and Family Courts are elected to eight-year terms, while District judges are elected to four-year terms.

Nine of Jefferson County’s 43 judicial elections have three or more candidates this year, subjecting them to primary elections on May 17 to determine who will advance to the general election on November 8.

Kentucky’s Circuit Courts are trial courts of general jurisdiction, covering felony criminal cases and large claims civil litigation. The Circuit 30, Division 10 seat has been held by Judge Angela McCormick Bisig since 2013. Bisig is running for the District 4 seat on the Supreme Court of Kentucky, and three candidates are running to fill her Circuit Court seat.

  • Dorislee Gilbert is a former executive director of the Mary Byron Project, former Chief of the Appellate and Research Division for the Commonwealth’s Attorney in Jefferson County. 
  • Zackary McKee, is in private practice in family law, bankruptcy and personal injury litigation. 
  • Patricia “Tish” Morris, 48, is head of Litigation at Winton & Hiestand Law Group, a large personal injury firm.

WFPL News sent a three-question survey to every candidate for judicial office in the nine races with primary elections impacting Jefferson County. Some candidates did not respond in time to be included; responses have been edited for clarity and length.

What makes you the most qualified candidate for this judgeship?

Candidate Dorislee GilbertGilbert campaign/ Laura Cook

Candidate Dorislee Gilbert

Gilbert: I have clerked for two appellate justices; worked in a civil firm; served 15 years as a prosecutor on cases from ID theft to capital murder; and run a nonprofit providing free legal service to domestic violence survivors. I have extensively researched and written about the law in court pleadings and legal publications. I have taught judges, attorneys, and police officers. I have tried more than 25 jury trials, handled more than 75 appeals, and participated in hundreds of circuit court cases. My cases have helped crime victims, secured criminal defendants’ rights, and improved court transparency. My personal life gives me perspective and a commitment to justice not based on class, color of skin, or ability. I am the daughter of autoworkers and a first-generation college graduate and lawyer. I graduated from a historically Black university and am mother to biracial boys, one who has Down Syndrome. I will be a knowledgeable, hardworking judge, who fairly applies the law and values people.

McKee: I am the most qualified based on my experience and areas of practice. I bring balance from both my criminal and civil experience. I practice family law, criminal law, personal injury, probate and bankruptcy. My criminal law practice includes DUI, Assault 4, Wanton Endangerment, Possession/Trafficking cases, etc. My personal injury experience includes wrongful death, negligent hiring, 1983 violations, car wrecks, etc. Circuit Court Judges also hear appeals from district court to circuit court. I have done appeals from district court to circuit court. I have practiced and won at the Kentucky Court of Appeals and the Kentucky Supreme Court. I also practice 1983 Civil Rights violations in federal court. I am a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) in which I represent children. I have my own private practice and practice in counties all over Kentucky. I have practiced in Hardin, Fayette, Scott, Bourbon, Meade, Bullitt counties and so many more. I have the most well rounded experience.

Morris: I have almost 20 years of litigation experience and have practiced almost every aspect of law. I am comfortable in the courtroom. In addition to basically growing up in the court system with my father, I became an attorney almost 20 years ago. I have learned and lived through almost every aspect of the law. My legal career has led me down the path to hold many invaluable positions starting as a staff attorney for Judge McDonald, to a large insurance defense firm, to heading up a personal injury firm, then to owning my own firm and finally being part of one of the largest personal injury firms in the area as head of the litigation department. I have practiced in the areas of criminal defense, civil litigation, family law, to probate and estates. I have a strong desire for fairness and equality despite anyone’s race, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic position, or gender. In short, I have the most experience in several areas of the law compared to my opponents.

What is your judicial philosophy, and how will it affect your actions on the bench?

Gilbert: Whether people feel safe and confident in courts depends on the quality of judges. Judges must be knowledgeable, hardworking, and respectful; bold in applying the law yet empathetic with folks; capable of making difficult, thoughtful decisions, even in the spur of the moment; and able to maintain order and hold attorneys and litigants accountable for timely and respectful participation in the process. I will do these things. My years of trial and appellate work and my professional writing and training has made me knowledgeable. I am hardworking, as exemplified by my receipt of the Outstanding Prosecutor award in 2019. My career working with the most vulnerable crime victims has taught me the importance of how courts treat people. As a former prosecutor, Division Chief, and Executive Director, I am capable of critical decision-making and holding folks accountable. As the mother of a child with special needs, I have developed the patience and demeanor to inspire confidence in the court.

McKee: The law is the law. The legislature makes the law and the role of a judge in the Commonwealth of Kentucky is to interpret the law. A judge should interpret the law as written looking at legislative intent and the plain meaning of the words chosen by the legislature. The law should be applied and interpreted fairly and honestly with an eye on the truth and justice.

Candidate Patricia MorrisCourtesy the Morris campaign

Candidate Patricia Morris

Morris: My philosophy is to treat everyone fairly while upholding the law. I want to create an open door policy for those in the community to make the court system less intimidating. I also want to encourage education through the court system bringing in the youth to watch and learn from court proceedings and also connecting with community leaders. I want to make rulings from the bench, expedite the judicial process especially in civil matters as I am well versed in civil law and procedure that is typically more complex than criminal. I welcome those who wish to have their day in court and actually have their cases tried before a jury. My biggest goal is to connect with the community and strive to bring it together with my actions and rulings vs dividing it even further.

In light of recent reports regarding deaths and unsafe conditions at the Louisville Metro Detention Center, what is the role of the judiciary in maintaining a safe and responsible jail?

Gilbert: As a separate branch of government, the judiciary’s role regarding the jail is limited. Judges have a duty to help limit the jail population by using nonmonetary bail conditions as appropriate and by moving cases swiftly to avoid lengthy pretrial and pre-revocation hearing detention. Judges must know of and properly use alternatives to jail, including home incarceration and community-based placements as conditions of pretrial release or jail alternatives for minor probation violations. Judges should know the limits of resources at the jail and avoid making unnecessary orders for special requests such as furloughs requiring security, increased computer access, etc. Judges should openly communicate with jail leaders about how a judge’s actions impact jail conditions and use of resources. With significant criminal law experience, I am the candidate with the perspective, experience, and knowledge to effectively fulfill a judge’s role in maintaining a safe and responsible jail.

Candidate Zackary McKeeCourtesy the McKee campaign

Candidate Zackary McKee

McKee: The Judiciary is a separate branch of government. The judiciary does not have control or responsibility over the jail. Part of the issue is with overcrowding. The judiciary has the responsibility to follow and apply the law when it comes to bail. When it comes to non-violent offenses, some individuals may not need to be housed in the jail. This would reduce overcrowding and make the jail more manageable and safe.

Morris: The role of the judiciary is to apply the law according to the facts presented. The Judge must way the risk to the community as well as the risk to the person. It is a very important role and must be considered very seriously by the Judge looking at factors such as overpopulation but also the risk of the person being a threat or harm to the community. Non-violent offenders and or first time offenders under the law may be safer should they be monitored with in-home incarceration or upon their own recognizance. Additionally, those that continue to repeat or have mental health conditions may be best served by receiving treatment vs being placed in the jail. However there are those who are best to be placed in jail. All of these factors must be considered and each case is unique – there is no blanket answer that will cure this problem.